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Monthly Report - February 2024



The heat continued to pour into the southwest of Western Australia and this has meant very strange results from the initial grape samples from the red varieties.  We were in a bit of a bind this month as we knew that grapes were ripening at a great rate of knots, but the physiological components that make fine-wine fine – acid and tannins – were either getting removed or not being able to develop and this makes the whole “fine wine” moniker that much harder to bear when in effectively a “hot climate” setting.  This is basically the reason why you have “South-East Australian Wine” written at the base of 5 litre wine boxes and sub $10 bottles – hot climates can generate lots of red grapes with low tannins and little acid due to the ever present sunshine and warmth, and given sufficient water (basically sh!t loads of water), there are tonnes and tonnes of grapes produced very quickly and cheaply – hence the $400-500/tonne price tag for these grapes.


Margaret River region is definitely not known for its “Vin du Cardboard” and this vintage has created so many issues that we are all scratching our collective heads, as it is simply put, extraordinary.  Many wineries are dealing with lower tonnes due to heat damage as well as a slightly smaller set caused by the early budburst and flowering – but they have yet to deal with what the wines will actually evolve into.  With the whites you were juggling the flavour / acid / sugar tricone of wine componentry – and this has meant that by carefully picking dates that retained a solid proportion of all three you should be in the “fine wine” category, and generally speaking I think most had a good chance of getting this right.  But with reds you add in two more factors in tannins and colour, and it is very tricky as the sugar levels are off and running, but tannins and colour are lagging, and acid is leaving the building – “fine wine” this year is just tough to produce.

202402_Dry vineyard.jpg

Parched paddocks and lawns – Blue Poles February 2024

Funnily enough I had encountered this once before while doing vintage in Bordeaux in 2010.  While I was waiting for a work visa I was given all the odd jobs, and one of them was testing sugar levels throughout the various vineyards that Ch. Girolate was buying in from (over 20 around the town and surrounds).  Over the 10 days I did this, I did not get a single beaume level (sugar percentage) under 15, and it reached as high as 17-18 towards the end of the testing period for the Merlots – knowing that beaume equals alcohol percentage you could understand why I was distraught when having to bring the news each day to the winery owners.


Lo and behold they did not care.  For them it was an easy fix, they just take the alcohol out before bottling by using a reverse osmosis machine and from all accounts that is what most of the region did for the vintage and tanker loads and tanker loads of pure alcohol was sent here there and everywhere.  For acid they had picked some young reds and crushed them off with it semi-fermented and they added this into the new grapes – so dear readers the finest estates of Bordeaux may be considered pristine and lined with angelic intentions from these precious sites, but there is chicanery in the system.  They, like many others throughout the world use many “tricks of the trade” to ensure consistency and quality – and in many many cases they still produce amazing wines, even with these games being played.


But here we are.  Am I to play the magician with the help from the wine making boys and girls of Fraser Gallop Estate?  In the case of the Merlot – No.  We simply cannot find a way in which these grapes running at 15 beaume with little tannin or acid could make a Blue Poles wine without a lot of manipulation and this goes against the ethos of the estate – damn my sensibilities!  But do not fear – one of the odd aspects of my crazy life is that during September last year I was dragged off to Tanzania and due to this trip, the pruning of the Cabernet Franc was delayed – drat and double drats I was saying to myself as the heat started coming in thick and fast.  But of all the outcomes, it did delay the flowering of that variety by a week or two and even though it ended up setting a small crop, by some miracle it has hung in there with little damage – blessed be this gnarly hard as nuts old vine.  So, by all accounts we should be able to make a Cabernet Franc from the vintage that will have all the components in abundance to make a super wine.  Small blessings.


This February I had a work job that took me to Saudi Arabia – one country I have never expected to set foot in.  I was able to travel cross country from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and look across at the border to Yemen from the adjoining mountains.  It was an experience and one I will never forget, but it is not a nation that gives you a warm feeling, it is one that sets its own rules and regardless of what you think of these rules, they just do not care, and by all accounts never will.

Central Desert and the Mountains on the Yemen border – Saudi Arabiaaste

[An aside: Having eaten Reindeer in Lapland (the meatballs were delicious – sorry Santa), I did manage to try camel in Abha and it was surprisingly very fatty and it tasted a little like flavoursome pork.  It really is camel central when driving across the centre of the country, which for me was not expected.]


So dear comrades, while I look out from my study window on the most parched landscape ever seen in Margaret River, I am super grateful to be here living in Australia.  And, as we reach the season’s denouement, even more super grateful that our vineyard can still give us an opportunity in a vintage even such as this to make fine wines for us all to enjoy.  What a journey…



Retro Packs and Visitations…


A big thanks to all of the comrades that took up the opportunity to purchase the latest release Chardonnay and the Allouran / Reserve Merlot retro packs.  I returned from Saudi all ready to pack them off to their new homes and looking at the weather forecast into Adelaide then Melbourne / Sydney it looked rather warm so I held off a few days just to ensure all went well.  But with that delay and my tardiness in completing this report they should be with you all in the next few days if not already safely in the cupboard.


We have had a bit of an upgrade to the tasting room and with the new liquor licence conditions being applied to the estate, we can safely allow up to 6 comrades in for a tasting at the house on any old regular day.  We do our best to provide all of the current releases for tasting and find an older bottle for looking at and provide that confirmation that our wines age well and deserve some cellaring if you have the capacity.


Do not be afraid to contact us if you are in Margaret River – I can not guarantee that I will always be in, but if I am it would be great to catch up over a glass or two of decent booze.  Oh… and excuse the lawn, 5 months without rain and a water tank running low means the poor old grass has been hammered – cannot be helped I am afraid.

Some cheese and apple for those tasting our wines

Time and place…


It seems strange to be considering where and when you drink alcohol now – it is impressed upon us all that we are to reduce consumption, have dry months/ weeks/ days, recognize it is poison, and mostly just feel guilty (one way or another).  Now the interesting aspect of this continual barrage of “alcohol is bad” is that it has become most omnipresent when the average alcohol consumption in Australia is the lowest it has been for 50 years.


You could argue of course that anti-alcohol rhetoric for so long has finally had an impact, hence the reduction in drinking volumes – but that does not make much sense as the average consumption of alcohol in Australia has now simply settled at around 9.0-9.8 litres per annum for the past 20 years – with a bit of a bump above 10 litres in 2008/09 before dropping back again.  In fact, most of the western world has an average alcohol consumption of 9-12 litres per annum, down from quite high levels for some countries and up from quite low levels for others – thus, we have all seemed to have reached a similar point in these societies even with the continual government harassment and wowsers yelling from the bleachers.

The “funnelling” of alcohol consumption throughout the western world

Maybe it was the lack of a beer after wandering around the desert in Saudi Arabia, or the dry fortnight I had at the start of the year, but I really wonder if we are actually drinking enough!  Yes, heresy but hear me out.


Many who are reading this monthly report are now on the higher side of 40 (for those that are younger I am stoked that you are here to read through my ramblings and you can sit back and giggle at us oldies).  The majority of you also would treat alcohol as a drink and not as an intoxicant – pretty sensible really, otherwise you would be reading the cask wine specials from liquorland ahead of this report.  All of us are currently partaking in the balancing act of ensuring that the alcohol that we enjoy is on hand when desired, which by default means we collect it (6 bottles to 6000).  You cannot help yourself – why deny one of life’s great pleasures due to lack of foresight?  Everyone who enjoys alcohol for the taste and pleasure it gives will procure better and better wines, spirits and even beers to be able to take advantage of a moment whenever it may arise.


So, this is where it gets interesting.  As we are bombarded with “alcohol is bad” messaging we instinctively react to this by reducing our imbibing so as to salve our minds – little things, alcohol free days or weeks / max of three glasses not four / low alcohol options / drinking to excess is much less common than it ever was.  All good of course – makes perfect sense.  However, what of all those delicious bottles you have caringly curated for decades?  When do they have their moment in the sun (or Riedel - Glencairn - Stien)?


I had a wedding not so long ago.  What a time to get out all those dusty Bordeaux’s, old single malts, renowned rums, and lovingly stored champagnes!  Ha!  It did not evolve like how you would imagine it would – wines were predominantly Blue Poles and a few others, some champagne was popped but only a couple, a 28yo whisky was opened and once someone tried to add coke to it, a cheaper whisky was quickly found for those who wanted simple cocktails, and the same with the rum.  So, this “event” effectively made no dent in the wines and spirits I have been collecting for years – and as a time to bring out the big guns it could hardly have been topped.


What to do dear comrade?


Well, I am going to put it to you – “plan” to drink your stash.  This is not one of those out there in the future type plans – I mean concrete plans.  Lots of simple things straight up, so let us get to them.


  • Cook a nice meal and open an expensive bottle mid-week.  It is a test of your emotional attachment more than anything – you have to start reducing this hook.

  • Share a bottle with family and friends – a good bottle when you have a setting that suits it.  Do not sweat it if it is not appreciated as much as you would like, just make sure you get a decent glassful.

  • Search for restaurants that do BYO – and use them.  Find a way to get two nice bottles in the bag and better still meet up with others to share.

  • I know this sounds 1970’s but invite relatively unknown people to dinner or to lunch – share your booze.

  • Top end is to have a regular meet up with a group of like-minded people to share your alcohol of choice. [I am very lucky that I have a group of guys that drink whisky with me, and it has meant the better bottles get opened and not just admired.  We are drinking our stash in a steady and extremely enjoyable way.]

Opening up the cellar a little while back – Mmmm delicious Bordeaux

We have made ourselves into islands surrounded by our goods.  We watch the world at times through our phone screens and take little pleasure in the “in between” times.  To that I say, hooey, it is time to take advantage of our foresight and enjoy what we have in regard to our cellared wines and spirits.


There is a place and time for drinking great wines and spirits, and I reckon that starts pretty much here and now…




Apart from sounding like a broken record – it was hot.  So hot in fact that I had to change the scale on my monthly temperature graph as we have never had in 20 years an average monthly maximum greater than 30.5oC and this month it averaged 31oC – so yes, it is bonkers hot.  Also taking into account that rainfall is negligible if not downright absent, the soils upon the hills and within the vales of Margaret River are now just a form of an armor plated duricrust.


The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:


February 2024:        

Avg Maximum Temp          31.0°C

Daily Max recorded            41.4°C


Avg Minimum Temp           14.9°C

Daily Min recorded               9.9°C


Rainfall:                                1.8mm

The average maximum and minimum temperature averages are much higher than in 2023 which was considered a very hot February in comparison to the past 20 years data.  Rainfall total for 2024 is negligible and this was the case in 2023 as well.

February 2023:        

Avg Maximum Temp           29.0°C

Daily Max recorded             37.1°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.3°C

Daily Min recorded               6.1°C


Rainfall:                                0.4mm

End of Vintage…


March will well and truly close off vintage in the Margaret River region.  We should have picked off the Cabernet Franc and placed the vineyard in recess.  The changeover stock from the January bottling of our red wines will be release late March / early April so keep an eye out for that in your inbox – they only last an hour or so, so no dillydallying!  A quick trip to Melbourne for me for work, and a chance to raid Tim’s wine fridge – what fun.

As always if you have any queries about what has been written or about wine in general, do not hesitate to contact us either by email, Instagram or Twitter and we will do our very best to answer any question.




Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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